“Body image” is a familiar term to most people. You’ve probably already heard of it and know that it plays a vital role in the day-to-day lives of those around you. It’s so prevalent in today’s society that industry professionals and everyday people are making their own TED Talks about it, in hopes of encouraging men and women of all ages to love themselves a little more.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 21 years on Earth, it’s that people can be mean. One snide comment about something you’re already self-conscious about and your sense of self-worth goes down the drain. My earliest memory of peer-to-peer interaction goes all the way back to pre-school, when I was made fun of for wearing glasses. Another memory is from other kids at that same elementary school making fun of my weight. I’ve lived my life trying to love myself the best I can despite those memories, but it gets difficult when I remember my childhood and try to go shopping for new clothes.
Luckily (but unlucky for those who experience these things), I’ve never been alone in my struggle with body image and lack of confidence. Women and men all around the world struggle with the opinions of others, and themselves, regarding their bodies.
The four Ted Talks below are inspiring, impactful and make me want to love myself and others more than I currently do. Maybe after watching each Ted Talk, you will, too.
1. “Ending the pursuit of perfection” — Iskra Lawrence
I’ve tried on a pair of jeans before, hopeful that they’d look fantastic, until I realized they weren’t going to make it past my thighs. For me, this meant a huge cloud hanging over the rest of my day. Iskra Lawrence, a 28-year-old model from the United Kingdom who is “committed to improving the image of women in the media,” has also experienced this, along with many others.
Although Lawrence is now an advocate self-care, self-love, body-positivity and an #aerieREAL Role Model, she wasn’t always like that. Lawrence said on an Instagram post that her previous obsession with looking like slimmer models that were “highly successful” contributed to her body dysmorphia and ultimately gave her an eating disorder.
Her TED Talk, which was published last year, focuses on how important it is that society works together to teach younger generations about self-care and loving themselves. Lawrence starts her talk by saying, “We do have a problem, though, and that is the most important relationship we have in our lives is the one we have with ourselves and we are not taught about it.”
Laurence gives three ways to practice self-care against those “inner demons” that typically come out when we’re at our most vulnerable. The first is what she calls the “mirror challenge.” You’re meant to pick out five things you love about yourself and then five things you love about your body and what it does for you.
Then, she suggests a gratitude list. If you’re ever battling the evils of a dressing room with a pair of jeans, remind yourself of how many amazing things you have in your life. All in all, she advises that you take a negative situation and turn it into a positive one. (And, yes, I know that’s easier said than done.)
2. “Plus-size? More Like My Size” — Ashley Graham
Who needs a label when you could just ignore them? That’s what Ashley Graham strives to do. As a model and body activist, Graham has been a target of criticism since she was 13 years old. In her TED Talk, Graham encourages the audience to “redefine the global vision of beauty” and to “become your own role model.”
Graham says that the U.S. plus-size industry starts at a size 8. This means that many Americans are considered “plus-size,” and that’s reason enough to throw away any label you give your body. All men and women are beautiful, and Graham wants us to remember that “[We are] women with shapes that are our own.”
3. “Why thinking you’re ugly is bad for you” — Meaghan Ramsey
Negative body image doesn’t just impact how you interact with yourself and the clothes at the mall; it can influence how well you do in school and in the workplace. Meaghan Ramsey, former Global Director of the Dove Self-Esteem Project in London, says that “low body confidence is undermining academic achievement.” Her talk discusses the importance of educating young girls and boys about their body image and how the media will affect them.
Ramsey says that it isn’t about how you actually look, but how you think you look. She even starts her talk with a startling statistic that, in 2014, 10,000 people were googling the phrase “am I ugly?” every month. Young teens were posting videos on YouTube asking the general public to tell them if they were pretty or not. Ramsey wants you to encourage young people in your life to “judge people for what they do, not what they look like.” That’s a simple task that starts with loving yourself and others for more than just appearances.
4. “I Am Fat – How to Be Confident and Love Your Body at Any Size” — Victoria Welsby
“You are worthy” and “You are loved” are just two messages that Victoria Welsby, a Confidence and Body Love Coach behind a website called BAM POW LIFE, gave in her TED Talk in April this year. According to her website, Welsby she “went from being homeless, abused with self-esteem that was achingly low into the courageous (and confident) boss lady and body image activist” that she is today.
With a lot of flair and dramatics, Welsby makes it perfectly clear how wonderful she thinks you are, no matter your body size, and that you should think so, too. She tells the story of her relationship with a boy that she met in a bar who was a bit of a jerk and cheated on her. Welsby spent so much time blaming herself and her body for how badly this boy treated her.
There was one piece of advice that she received after discovering her cheated and that was to “get rid of negative people” and to “start with social media.” So that’s exactly what she did. People say you are what you surround yourself with and that couldn’t be more accurate. Once Welsby got rid of the toxic presence on her social media, she was able to focus on herself and having self confidence.
She finished her TED Talk with two pieces of advice that I hope to never forget. She tells the viewer to “love your fabulous body unconditionally” and that you need to “do the things that make you happy whether your bum jiggles when you do it or not.”
Life is too short to worry about how other people are looking at you. Whether you’re a size 4 or a size 16, you are beautiful and worthy. And, if you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder or mental health issues because of body image, please reach out. You don’t have to go through it alone, and learning to love your body again can be a long, perilous journey.